The original crowd, p.33
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       The Original Crowd, p.33

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  looked a little more relaxed though, but not much. Molly was easily the most extroverted of them, and that was saying a lot.

  “We’re going to the diner?” Molly squeaked, flushing when I pulled into the parking lot. It was packed, but it was the hang out.

  “Yep,” I said, a bit more firmly. They couldn’t leave without me. I had the keys to the car.

  A full minute later, they all climbed out, not a word spoke between the three of them. I led the way, figuring they’d have to stand in the doorway for a good five minutes. But I was surprised. The second we were led to a booth in the back, all three of them hurried around me and squished into it.

  Sitting beside Molly—big surprise that Kayden and Angela sat together—I ordered a Diet Coke when the server came over. She gave us a startled look. Don’t ask me why—I had no idea.

  “So,” I commented, staring at Angela and Kayden.

  Silence.

  Like I’d expected anything else. Ha.

  “Um—” Even Molly was coming up with nothing.

  I don’t know why I was doing this. I don’t know why I was sitting—at the diner—with these three in an uncomfortable silence. I was trying to be more than just table-mate and science lab friends with Molly. I actually liked her. And I guess I was willing to do just about anything to keep myself distracted from the things I was so uncertain about in my life: Brian, Jace, Galverson, Tray.

  But it wasn’t working.

  “Do you guys like anyone?” I asked, a bit desperate for conversation.

  Angela and Kayden both looked horrified, their eyes wide in alarm, but at least they were looking at me—finally.

  “So,” I threw a thumb in Molly’s direction, “this one’s boy crazy. How about you two?”

  Still nothing.

  “But, I have to tell you, I will only be Molly’s pimp. The two of you…good luck, but no pimping. Sorry,” I said cheerfully.

  I saw a brief smile on Kayden’s face, but…in the blink of an eye—it was gone. But hey, at least it was something.

  “Hey. You.”

  Oh please, please, please don’t be for me, I prayed. How many verbal lashings does a girl have to go through in a day?

  “Scoot in, Taryn.”

  It was Carter.

  I grinned back at him. “Hey.” I pushed Molly against the wall as Carter sat on my other side.

  He looked around the table, but was quiet.

  “So…um,” he began, “how’s it going?”

  Alright, I knew he could be here for one of two things—one, he was send by Tray to make sure I wasn’t doing anything stupid, or two, he was here to grill me about Mandy and Devon. Just wanting to beat him to the punch, I said flatly, “I already told Mandy she’s an idiot. I had no bearing on her moronic decision to go back to Devon.”

  “Oh.” It wasn’t what he was going to say; I saw a flicker of some emotion in his eyes that I couldn’t decipher. “Uh…well, yeah. I mean, come on, we all knew it was only a matter of time. It’s Mandy and Devon, you know?” I’m sure he meant for it to come out as if he didn’t care, be he didn’t quite pull it off.

  I said lightly, “It used to be you, you know, but I was told on good authority that Amber told you to date Sabrina Lyles because Mandy had a thing for you.”

  He laughed nervously. “Come on. Mandy’s always had a thing for me—me and Tray—if Devon wants her, it’s who she’s gonna be with. He’s like her…”

  “Comfortable blanket?” I finished for him dryly.

  “Yeah.” He chuckled, relaxing. “I like you, Taryn. I really do. We need more of you in our circle.”

  “I’m not in the circle.”

  “Oh, yes you most certainly are, he proclaimed heartily. “One, you’re with Tray. Two, Mandy’s your sister. And three, Amber and Jasmine are terrified of you—and I’m talking ‘shit in your pants’ terrified of you. I love it. Trust me, that puts you in the circle. Right smack-fucking-dab in the middle. Plus, the guys like you. You don’t play those stupid games the rest of the girls do.”

  “Bryce and Devon like me?” I asked incredulously. I’d torn into both of ‘em.

  “Well, yeah. They respect you.”

  I chose to stay silent.

  “Anyway, I was wondering what’s up with Tray? You two have a fight?” He grinned, flashing one of those godlike charming smiles, at the server who nearly dropped our order. I watched and realized he’d done it without thinking. It had become an automatic instinct—he was a natural born womanizer.

  Seriously.

  “Why do you ask?” I asked curiously.

  “Because he’s pissed. I know it’s Tray and he’s pretty—well—pretty tight-assed about stuff, you know. But something’s off with him. The guys want to go to the casino tonight and Tray said he didn’t give a shit where we go. That’s not Tray. Tray’s either up for the casino or he’s not. When he says he doesn’t give a shit—it means something’s off.” He drank some of my Diet Coke and continued, “So, what’s up with you two?”

  “I don’t know how it’s any of your business,” I remarked, grabbing my glass away from him.

  “Oh!” His eyes lit up. “So you two did have a fight? Wow. This is…this is a mile-marker—Tray’s upset because of a girl.”

  “You make him sound like he’s made of stone or something.”

  “Last time Tray was upset about a girl was in the seventh grade when Kimberly Farnum moved away…before she gave him a blow job. He was really pissed.”

  I literally watched the Invisibles shrink further into the booth. I wonder if they knew what a blow job was.

  I sighed annoyed. “Thanks, but I can assure you this has nothing to do with blow-jobs. Is he here?”

  “Yeah,” Carter grabbed my pop again, “we’re around the corner. He called and wanted to grab a burger. I just happened to see you ‘cause I was heading to the bathroom.”

  I drank the rest of my Diet Coke.

  Carter was watching me, waiting for a response. “So?” he asked expectantly.

  I shrugged. “Look…yeah…something went down, but I’m not telling you about it.”

  “Well, can you go over and get it on with him? I mean, Tray’s not any fun when he’s like this. You can use my car.”

  Okay. Seriously? I smacked him in the head.

  “Ouch,” he murmured, rubbing his head. “What the hell?”

  “Want me to smack you again,” I dared him.

  “Fine.” He shrugged, standing up. “But man, Taryn, go and talk to him at least.”

  “I can’t,” I said stiffly.

  “Why not?”

  “Because, I don’t know what I’ll say, okay? Now leave. It’s none of your business.” I pointed in the direction of the bathroom.

  He rolled his eyes, but he got up and went to the bathroom. I knew he’d probably have something more to say when he came back.

  Molly, Angela, and Kayden were watching me—all three of them had their eyes glued to me. Progress!

  “What?” I asked.

  Of course, Angela and Kayden looked away.

  Molly was in awe. “We just sat at the same table as Carter Sethlers. Oh. My. Goodness. Holy. Light. Sockets.”

  I loved this girl.

  “Molly,” I murmured, “you could’ve said hi.”

  “Right.” She was still reveling. “Carter Sethlers sat here. Here. With us. Can you believe it?”

  She blinked, realizing it did just happen. “I mean—” She flushed, grabbing her drink.

  “Trust me, he’ll be back. Say hi next time,” I said wryly.

  Angela squeaked at that, but cowered even farther in her corner.

  “Do you guys seriously not talk? Ever?”

  “We don’t really have anything to say,” Kayden spoke up, and I fell back in amazement. She had a thick, almost silky voice; one of those sexy voices that guys go crazy for.

  “What do you mean?” I asked, dumbfounded. How can you not have anything to say?

  “We’r
e not like you. We’re…nobodies,” she explained, like it made perfect sense.

  Oh no. No fucking way.

  “You’re not nobody,” I said fiercely. “Someone told you that you were a nobody, but you’re not. You choose to let them be right or wrong. You’re the only one that can decide if you’re a nobody or not.”

  Someone had told me I was a nobody once, and there was no fucking way they were right.

  “Taryn,” Molly said quietly, from her far corner of the booth. It was only then that I realized how upset I’d gotten.

  “I’ll be right back,” I said, hurriedly, as I slipped out the booth and headed to the bathroom. That word just brought so many memories back to me. I needed to force down all these feelings so I didn’t have a break down, at the diner of all places. Breathing heavily, I got a few paper towels and wet my face.

  When I got back to the table, feeling like an idiot, I was surprised that Carter was sitting in my place. With Molly, Angela, and Kayden all grinning—blushing—but grinning back at him.

  Carter’s stock just sky-rocketed with me.

  I moved to stand by the table and Carter looked up with a grin. “Hey. Where’d you go?”

  “Bathroom.” I fixed him with a stare, but we both knew it lacked any heat. He was in good with me now.

  He stood and moved to the side. “Why don’t you guys come sit with us? We got room. Mitch and the guys just took off.”

  “Oh, um—” I wanted to say no. I really wanted to say no, but I saw the look in Molly’s eyes and I knew she may never have this chance again. It was sad to say, but this might make their entire year. “Sure,” I said reluctantly.

  Carter grinned, his eyes all-knowing, as he took in my torment. The shithead.

  When we walked around the corner, they were in the back corner. Bryce, Grant, and three other guys sat on one side. Tray and two others were on the other side, with three empty chairs at their table. As we neared, the guys looked up and saw us coming. I saw a flash of surprise in Tray’s eyes when he saw me.

  One of the guys stood up and grabbed two more chairs from a nearby table.

  “Hey, Taryn,” Bryce and Grant greeted me easily, standing and taking the empty chairs so I could sit by Tray with the rest beside me.

  Really. They didn’t have to.

  I sat down stiffly and smiled to the group. “Guys, this is Molly, Angela, and Kayden. Girls, this is Grant, Bryce, Tray, and—”

  Carter took over, “Scotts, Grates, Kinley, Colt, and Derrick.” They all grinned in response, but were all a bit taken aback.

  “You girls hungry?” Grant offered. “Help yourself.” They had at least eight appetizers in the middle of the table, plus individual plates in front of each of them. I really hate how guys can eat. It’s a universal curse on women.

  I sighed. Angela looked like she was going to pass out. Kayden was biting her lips, both of them, looking everywhere except for at any of the guys, and Molly looked like a lobster, blushing from head to toe.

  “They’re,” I faltered, “shy.”

  The guys laughed.

  “So, why are you with them?” Bryce teased. “Because no one would describe you as shy.”

  “Fuck off,” I said easily, but laughed. “Bryce, you got an idea for the science contest?” We were supposed to do some invention. I had it made—Molly was my partner. It was an easy A for me. “You should hit up Molly for some ideas, she’s a science genius, and my partner, so don’t even think of stealing her.”

  After looking at me like I’d lost my mind, he turned to Molly and asked, “So, what are you guys doing your project on?”

  Molly gave him a tight smile, still blushing, but she managed to get out, “I’m thinking of using a statistical design to find the migrant rotation of Canadian geese in the next three months around level three wetlands.”

  I was so not participating in that conversation.

  The rest of the guys were tuned in—they hunted—they could actually understand what she was talking about. Imagine that, Molly had something in common with these guys.

  I felt Tray brush my thigh underneath the table and looked over. He was staring intently at me. He reached for my chair and pulled it closer. Leaning down, he murmured, “Thought you’d be halfway to Pedlam by now.”

  This is why I wanted to avoid him. I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t know what I was even going to do anymore.

  I shrugged and signaled for another Diet Coke.

  “Taryn,” Tray spoke, “are you still—”

  “I don’t know, okay? I mean, you kinda laid a lot on me, you know?”

  “Yeah,” he bit out, leaning against the back of his chair, watching me closely.

  “What am I supposed to say?”

  He shrugged, looking colder than normal—if that was possible.

  “I mean, it’s not the same situation.”

  “You’re right. You have an easy out. I didn’t,” he clipped out, sounding and looking even more pissed off than a second ago.

  “Oh come on. I have a right to know—”

  He stood up abruptly and walked outside, leaving me sitting there, irritated beyond words. I stalked after him, finding him walking to my car.

  “Come on, Tray!” I yelled after him and I got even more pissed off—he had my keys. My keys in his hands and he was getting behind my wheel. I stomped around the car and got into the passenger seat. “What are you doing? This is my car!”

  “We’re leaving,” he replied, gunning my car in reverse.

  “I don’t really feel like getting in a car accident today,” I said tightly. “What about my friends?”

  “Those aren’t your friends,” he shot back. “Those are your charity cases and Carter will give ‘em a ride back.”

  “They are not my charity cases,” I said hotly.

  “Yes, they are. You feel sorry for them and you’re trying to find friends who would never even think of lying to you. Those are your charity cases, you’re using them to make yourself feel better.”

  I slumped in my chair and let my temper simmer, knowing it was going to boil over pretty soon.

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  Tray drove us to school and got into his own vehicle. A second later, he peeled out of the parking lot and I stewed. I knew he wanted me to follow him, but Tray hadn’t made that demand.

  So, I just sat there, in my car and thought of my options: follow Tray back to his house or go home.

  I chose to go home. I needed another shower and a change of clothes. Plus, I could do with some peace and quiet. Tray couldn’t get mad at me for going home; he’d be irritated that I didn’t follow him, but would be livid if I went to Pedlam.

  So I went home. Austin was downstairs and I assume he was hanging out with friends—I could hear other voices, including a few girls. Interesting. I made a mental note to go down and embarrass him later. I couldn’t do it now, not when my emotional wiring was so frayed.

  “Hey, honey.” Shelley bustled around the kitchen.

  “Hi,” I replied, hopping onto a stool, “what are you doing?”

  “Oh, Austin brought a bunch of his friends home. He never acts like it, but it means a lot to him if I prepare some food for them. Gotta do it, all those kids like to eat, you know.”

 
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